Santa Clara University
Knowledge, connection, illumination. These three words are the hallmarks of Santa Clara University’s educational perspective. As a world-class university, these values are integrated across the student experience, and as a Jesuit institution, they’re deeply engrained throughout its ethos.
SCU’s newest facility was designed to facilitate connections across the science, technology, and mathematics disciplines – to help spur new ideas born from collaboration. Rather than segment out departments and cluster students by area of study, everyone – and everything – is interwoven, connected through a single open staircase. The idea being: different connections illuminate new ideas, and we embedded this belief into the facility through landmark art and graphics.
An expansive half-sun representative of Jesuit symbolism spans the height of the building, using overlapping white fins coated in specialized materials to reflect and shimmer light.
To create an impactful feature statement where students and faculty intermix, the building’s central staircase is surrounded by a dynamic art installation, drawing from the Jesuit history of exploration in astronomy and Catholic themes of light and darkness. On one side, an expansive half-sun representative of Jesuit symbolism spans the height of the building, using overlapping white fins coated in specialized materials to reflect and shimmer light. The opposite wall connects mirrored insignias of the three hallmark words, each integrating planet-like forms into the typography using an illuminated planet figure in place of the letter “o.” Together, the design dances with light and reflects color to create an ever-changing experience transcending the university’s values as students, faculty, and staff ascend or descend throughout the building. The entire graphical system energizes the staircase.
Particular attention was paid to the specific ways light and material interact in this design. In order to create dynamic representations of illumination, we partnered with Design Fugitives – the Wisconsin-based specialty design and fabrication firm – to help realize the design and explore unique materials that would not only reflect natural and artificial light, but maximize their beauty as lighting shifts. For the half-sun design, a specialized dichroic film was selected and installed on each fin, which enables reflection of color to be seen from any angle. The fins were also stacked and capped in a way where mounting hardware is invisible, providing a seamless appearance and dimensionality.
Radiating lines were selected to represent both the catalyzation of change and physical science: when energy is sent out, it radiates until it hits something else – harkening back to physics and the idea of how one individual can affect or be affected by others.
The opposing wall’s radiating lines – which are flipped in direction of the sun’s rays to create circular movement within the space – utilize a mirrored finish to play with light in a different way, while drawing the eye between the three insignia words. The mirror effect also allows visitors to see themselves within the space. Each of these elements stand proud of the wall to create texture and reflection, even when seen at an angle. The use of radiating lines itself was selected to represent both the catalyzation of change and physical science: when energy is sent out, it radiates until it hits something else – harkening back to physics and the idea of how one individual can affect or be affected by others.
Together, these elements create a piece of art that defines the stairwell, and the building. While the design itself is naturally visually intriguing, the use of historical inspiration and current themes builds context and power into what it represents. Just as each specifically-selected material comes together to create the piece, the piece comes together to define the building.
Like science and mathematics, the smallest details often dictate the largest results. This project relied on intentional use of material, texture, color, and light to create a unique experience – one that represents the values of the institution and the collaboration found within the building.
Photography by Bruce Damonte and by Design Fugitives
Published on 04 January 2023